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Provost Winston Langley, JFK Winner Daniela Bravo-Terkia, and Chancellor J. Keith Motley (Christian Arthur/Boston)
May 27, 2017

At UMass Boston Undergrad Commencement, JFK award winner shares journey out of shadows


  • Boston

Daniela Bravo-Terkia’s journey at UMass Boston took her from the shadows of America to the stage of the TD Garden.

Bravo-Terkia, who emigrated from Chile with her family at age 12, received the John F. Kennedy Award for Academic Excellence on Friday at UMass Boston’s 49th Commencement exercises. The first undocumented student to win the university’s highest academic honor, Bravo-Terkia was one of 2,840 undergraduates to receive a diploma at the undergraduate ceremony.

Another 1,299 students earned advanced degrees at Thursday’s graduate commencement at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion.

Bravo-Terkia spoke of being a beneficiary of DACA, the Obama-era program that extends temporary legal status to undocumented people who arrived in the country as children. 

“Although only a small number of people know about my experience in this country, my story is full of struggles and obstacles that portray the stories of invisible people, of people living in the shadows,” Bravo-Terkia said. “I sat in your classrooms, I ate in your cafeteria, I used your library and computers, but you did not know."

“Sharing this piece of information with all of you is important because as you can see, I don’t carry a label that states my legal status nor, the multiple identities that make me the woman that I am today,” she said. “I am a person with big dreams, ambitions and desires, but who has been often been stereotyped incorrectly due to media criminalization [of immigrants] and through the broken immigration system.” (Read her full address here.)

These same themes were echoed in the principal address by Irina Bokova, the first woman and the first Eastern European to serve as the director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Bokova received a honorary doctor of science degree.

“There is something more that makes UMass unique – you believe in the power of diversity to widen and strengthen our capacity to create, to enrich societies and stoke new ideas – mixing methods and disciplines, cultures and peoples from all backgrounds,” Bokova said.

Bokova highlighted what she called the greatest challenge of our time - living together in our diversity - saying that the only way to respond is “to treat everyone on an equal footing, to make the most of our differences, to learn from them and to work with people from a myriad of backgrounds.”

Bravo-Terkia was not the only 2017 graduate with a long journey to the Garden. The commencement crowd went wild for 84-year-old Joan Donovan, mother of six and grandmother of 10, who completed her bachelor’s degree in English on Friday.

The ceremony was the last for Chancellor J. Keith Motley, who is stepping down on June 30 after 10 years on the job. Motley said this year’s graduates are representative of UMass Boston’s commitment to broadening horizons.

“Our students are family because along with their many colors and creeds, they bring to this campus a diversity of thought and experience that compels them to get to know one another to better understand one another. It is a beautiful instinct that makes the academic learning experience here that much better," he said.

Prolific composer Yehudi Wyner received a honorary doctor of fine arts degree at the ceremony. A winner of the Pulitzer Prize and two Guggenheim fellowships, Wyner has created more than 100 works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, chorus, solo performers, theater, and liturgical services. He has received commissions from Carnegie Hall, the Boston Symphony, the BBC Philharmonic, the Library of Congress, the Ford Foundation, the Koussevitzky Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Fromm Foundation.

Boston real estate developer Richard Galvin, the founder of CV Properties, received the Chancellor’s Medal for Leadership in Community and Commercial Development. Galvin is responsible for several notable projects in the Boston area, including the revitalization of 50 Post Office Square and the new State Street building in South Boston.

Three faculty members received Chancellor’s Awards: physics professor Maxim Olchanyi, classics and religious studies professor Kenneth Rothwell, and nursing professor Linda Dumas were honored for their distinguished scholarship, teaching, and service, respectively.

If you missed the ceremony, you can watch the video on YouTube.